Cats in Fables, Fairytales and Festivals

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Patrick Roberts

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Jean de La Fontaine

The fables of Jean de La Fontaine (1621-95), using animals to point up human morals, were first published in 1668. Le Chat, la Belette et le petit Lapin ('The Cat, the Weasel and the little Rabbit') tells of the weasel taking possession of the rabbit's burrow one day while the rabbit was out. When he returned, the weasel refused to let him in, saying, in effect, that 'Possession is nine-tenths of the law.' The rabbit argued that the burrow was his by custom and usage, having been passed down from generation to generation of his family. They argued until finally the weasel agreed that Raminagrobis, a wise old cat who lived like a hermit, should arbitrate for them (the reclusive cat was seen as a 'dig' at seventeenth-century French clerics).

The cat said, 'Come close, my children, for advancing years have caused me to become deaf.' The other two animals, unsuspecting, approached him. The cat suggested that they should stand on his set of scales, so that he could weigh his judgement. When they were there, still arguing, he struck out at both of them with his claws, causing them to quickly stop disagreeing and reach an accord.

This tale strongly resembles squabbles that petty rulers have amongst themselves, said de La Fontaine, before both are swallowed up by mighty kings.

From 1995 set of French stamps, 300th anniversary of la Fontaine's death From 1995 set of French stamps, 300th anniversary of la Fontaine's death From 1995 set of French stamps, 300th anniversary of la Fontaine's death

The illustrations here are from a set of French stamps and labels issued in 1995
to commemorate the 300th anniversary of de La Fontaine's death.
They were designed by Roland & Claudine Sabatier.

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Our featured feline at the head of the page: it was with great regret that I decided to let Pushkin be 'put to sleep' early in 2006, following intractable health problems, a gloomy prognosis and a much diminished quality of life. He was a 'rescue cat' of uncertain age, but I would guess 12 years or more. He will be remembered with great affection as a cat with perfect manners: a gentle soul who seemed even more inscrutable than the average feline. There's a small tribute to him here.

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